Oh sure, they’ll oppose it. They’ll say it’s too expensive, that it won’t work, that it will be wasteful. Some will vote against it, though given the popularity of both Obama and the stimulus itself, less than you might think.
But their heart won’t be in it.
Here’s my sense of their long-term strategy. This isn’t based on anything other than observation and chatting around the Capitol. I think they’ll let the stimulus pass and, indeed will be quite fine with it being very big. Much bigger than it is now: a trillion dollars or more. Because once the stimulus passes, Republicans are going to say: OK. We’re done. Meaning: no more money. They’ll point to the $700 billion for the TARP, plus the $1 trillion for the stimulus, and they’ll say: we’ve spent all the money there is to be spent. There’s no money for healthcare. There’s no money for anything, really except the Pentagon. They’ll run against deficits, waste and bailout nation.
I’m not sure this argument is going to work – a lot depends on what the economy is doing – but it’s simple, clear and intuitively appealing. And if you’re a Republican, you much rather see Obama and the Democrats spend money on infrastructure, and projects with expiring time horizons, than in creating a universal health care system that voters will have Democrats to thank for the next generation. The real danger of this moment for the Republicans is structural reform, fundamental changes to the American welfare state, or labor law, or regulation of carbon. That’s where we’ll see the big league, scratch and claw, any means necessary opposition. But on the stimulus? Not so much.